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21st December 2011
It's 20 years since I first went abroad - the beginning of my lifetime love of travel.
I was a late starter, it was September 1991 and I was 22 years old. I flew with my friend to Kenya. It was my present to me for working for a year in a proper job without getting sacked and with my degree in zoology and only a trip to Milford Haven to look at limpets under my belt I wanted to see big game. I wanted to see the animals and the ecosystems I'd learnt about in theory, red in tooth and claw for real.
It was an amazing trip. We stayed on the coast near Mombassa and visited Tsavo and Amboseli national parks on safari. Driving around on the plains, with Mt Kilimanjaro as my backdrop surrounded by herds of absolutely everything, I was like a kid in a sweet shop.
Having said that, I was really disturbed by the vastness of the deserts we flew over to get there. 1991 was hot on the heels of Band Aid, Comic Relief had only been going for a few years and I had just studied Ecology and Biological Resource Use and Conservation as part of my degree.
The other day when I was searching in Narnia in my top room for my Duran Duran scrap book, I discovered my old trunk full of old stuff. Underneath a layer of old teddy's, a Womble and presents from old boyfriends was my Kenya scrap book.
And inside my Kenya scrap book was a poem I'd written. I've no idea if it's any good or not but it's how I felt all those years ago. I'm not sure how much has changed over the last 20 years, but like the Womble, I think it deserves an airing.
At at this time of hyper consumerism and consumption it's a chance for us to give a thought to those people living in that wasteland who will be having a very different Christmas to us. So here it is - I hope you like it.
Four hours to fly over a wasteland,
A desert, a nothing, a void,
No green trees or forests below me,
Just red sand with which man had toyed.
The vastness below really scares me
From high above in the sky,
A few minutes to cover the Channel,
A few hours the desert, so why?
Why this mass desolation?
Who caused it? Who can I blame?
The earth does have natural deserts,
But the size of this one is insane.
The people who live there are guilty
Of stripping the life from this place,
By grazing, by farming, by living,
By belonging to the Human Race.
The people who rule there are guilty
Of crushing the pride from this place,
Their greed and their lust and injustice
Cause poverty, starvation and hate.
The people who fly there are guilty,
Too quick to criticise and blame,
Returning to ‘safe’ little countries,
Closed minds ignoring their shame.
The shame of their self preservation,
Of selfish values and greed,
Of absent minded destruction,
Of classing all wildlife as ‘weeds’.
Any hope for your beautiful wasteland?
Any hope for my conscience and pride?
Who cares that your sands keep on growing?
Who cares that my country has died?
I will do my best to help you,
To help you grow and be green,
To be lush and fertile and fragrant,
Transforming your nightmare to dream.
But I must not neglect my surroundings,
So ‘fragrant’, ‘lush’, ‘fertile’ and ‘green’,
My country has so much in danger,
So much worth preserving, unseen.
And so I find strength in this wasteland
With its haunting elegance and charm,
River veins scar its complexion,
Like life lines upon my own palm.
Alison Staples (1991)